Going To My HBCU Made Me A Man

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Members of the graduation class of 2013 stand during the commencement ceremony before US President Barack Obama delivers the key address at Morehouse College on May 19, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

I never knew I’d be enrolled at Fort Valley State University. Sure, it was the school that I desperately wanted to attend. It was the first HBCU I really payed attention to as its close proximity to my hometown of Macon, Georgia drew my attention. Even with my mother attending Mercer University in the 1990’s and my dad attending Macon State College during my childhood, HBCU’s were still on my radar. Growing up listening to The Tom Joyner Morning Show and watching media such as A Different World and Drumline allowed me to become immersed in HBCU culture. However, HBCU’s were never an option for me. My desire pushed me to want to attend but finances were a barrier.

Admittedly, I never wanted to go to a PWI. I never wanted to go to Mercer. Sure, Mercer University in Macon, Georgia is a nice school and both my Mom and Aunt graduated from there but I wanted something different. I knew that I would get my education at a school such as Mercer but I wanted to attend an institution where I felt welcome. I wanted to feel important. I wanted to create my own legacy as a successful HBCU student turned notable alumnus. However, you often go with the option that pays. Because my dad worked at Mercer, I would’ve been able to go for free. The allure of a paid education was promising. Still, I wanted to attend an HBCU. I wanted to attend FVSU. Eventually I got my chance.

I only took the SAT once. I’ve always been an adept writer but my math skills weren’t up to par. I scored high on the essay Reading/English portions of the SAT but got a 300 in Math. As a consequence, I wasn’t admitted into Mercer. However, my 300 score on the Math portion of the SAT turned into a blessing when I was admitted into FVSU as a Math Support student. I passed the Compass test the Summer of 2015 and looked ahead to what the next four years of life would afford me.

I’d finally achieved what I wanted: to be a student at Fort Valley State University. However, I didn’t know that I’d grow the way I have. My parents instilled the virtues of manhood and the responsibilities of being an adult. They prepared me for our cruel people can be and how wicked and evil the world can get. My time at FVSU was when I took their lessons and turned it into applied knowledge that’s allowed me to empower myself, my peers and hopefully thousands of other people around the nation and world.

There’s a reason why I’m so passionate about being a student leader. I take my duty seriously and serve my peers like how I wanted back when I was a freshman. Picture me, as ambitious as ever as I moved in on campus August 13, 2015. Sure, I was emotional that I was starting this new part of my life and that I wouldn’t be seeing my parents on an everyday basis but I was excited at the opportunities that were now in front of me. Just 20 minutes after my parents left, I even made $20 helping my now Media Studies peer Roderick Branscomb move his stuff into his room in WC7. If I could make $20 in less than an hour here, the possibilities had to be endless!

As my freshman year rolled on, I realized that college life isn’t like what you see on TV or in the movies. My wake-up call was September 3, 2015 when we’d found out that Taylor Moore had passed away. I’d just seen her on the yard weeks before, as she was an member of the Alpha Beta chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha on campus. I’d seen her freshman week. Now she was gone. Normally, young people have a sense of bravado at the notion of death. I’d never had that same attitude. Even though I didn’t personally know Taylor, her passing affected me.

When I was in my room, I tried my best to come to term with my feelings. I took Taylor’s death the same way I’d tried rationalized singer Aaliyah’s death (which inspired me to write my first novel The Diary of Aaliyah Anderson). I just didn’t understand how such a beautiful young lady could be taken so tragically. How could a person that made such an impact on so many people be robbed of her growth like that. I remember talking to my Mom about it, and her comforting me like she always does. As the year went on, I witnessed several more of my classmates that passed. It was numbing. It was sobering. I’d never experienced death that closely before. It affected me. It taught me to cherish life for what it is and to do what you can to make a change on this earth in the time that you’re divinely allotted.

As my freshman year rolled on, I understood what my Dad meant when he said, “Life is like a roller coaster. It has its ups and downs.”  I achieved so much my freshman year at FVSU. I made history with my book signing for the 120th Centennial Celebration. I covered the Homecoming with the school’s Marketing & Communication Department. I lectured at Research Day about the process of writing my books and was even awarded creative excellence in the Humanities. It sounds like everything was perfect. Then, the lows hit.

I started to feel alone. I got into a relationship that didn’t fulfill me. I distanced myself from it, not understanding that closure starts the process of healing and a man doesn’t run out on his commitments. Plus, I didn’t think about how she felt. The hurt from my breakup caused me to not feel complete anymore. I went out and searched for the validation that I should’ve given to myself. I was worth it. I had potential. I didn’t need anyone else to inform men what had been instilled in me since my childhood.

My sophomore year I donned a “me against the world” attitude. I felt as if I didn’t fit in so I decided to rebel. The moment I decided in my mind that I was going to rebel against what I thought was “accepted” led to me being accepted for who I was. I didn’t smoke, drink or party. I was a hustler. I was a student leader. I was a reliable friend that wanted the best for my school. Not only was I accepted, I was celebrated. For the first time in my school career, I was called “popular” and a “campus celebrity”. It felt good. Too good.

I allowed how I was being treated to affect my ego. I found myself now being complacent. I’d lost sight of what I was in school for. I failed my first class ever in my school career. I got into a friendship that was toxic and I didn’t realize it until months had passed and it was too late. I once again felt unfulfilled come second semester of  my sophomore year. Then, I rekindled a love that never left me but I’d subsided due to my ego. My love for FVSU. Through my state of unfulfillment, my love for Fort Valley grew and I was able to get back on track again.

I rebounded on my grades. I started the first phase of HBCU Pulse on Urban Intellectuals. I started my mission to get the actors from BET’s The Quad to come on campus. I got into a viral battle over school pride, I assisted in successful campaigns during campaign week. I fulfilled a promise I made to myself freshman year to apply to be a White House HBCU All-Star Ambassador for the White House Initiative on HBCU’s.

Elyse Jones, HBCU All-Star program manager and I, September 19, 2017

The first semester of my junior year once again felt like a dream. Through the All-Star program I met my close friend and fellow White House HBCU All-Star from Florida A&M University (Sidenote: Yes, I talk about her all the time because she’s amazing! Wait until I put up my interview with her!:) ). I went to Washington and represented FVSU as a White House Ambassador. I went to Southern University in Louisiana and FAMU’s Homecoming. However, things started to change on campus.

I was still highly regarded and my work and position was respected but people started to switch up on me. Friendships ended. Projects fell apart. I felt as if there was a target on my back. I didn’t like how that felt. I knew it was coming but it hurt. Feeling as if I had to watch my back and watch who I trusted wore on me. It still does.

Yet, though it all, I’ve grown. I’ve found peace on mind. I’ve grown in my faith. I’ve learned to trust myself and my judgement. I’ve also found out who’s really for me and who was only here for a season in my life. I am and will continue to grow. I’m on year three in my four year journey. I’m eager to see what more is in store for my life. But, through it all,  know that my time at Fort Valley State University made me the man I am.  

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